Dr.V.V.B. Rama Rao’s Looking Within and Beyond: Poems – (N.Delhi, Authors Press, 2017) pp.184, Rs. 350-
Dr.V.V.B. Rama Rao needs no introduction in the literary community connected with Indian writing in English. He has established himself as an eminent critic, reviewer and biographer and now this present collection of poems proves him as a powerful poet with remarkable potentiality as a poet. As a critic and prose writer he has acquired an eminent position in the literary horizon and that he is a polished writer is an established fact. His style is lucid and elegant and the depth of his scholarship reveals the hidden beauties and layers of meanings of the creative works of numerous authors however varied they are. As a matter of fact this book with 102 poems is a unified volume that integrates three independent slender volumes – 1. ‘Seeing God and Other Poems’ with 38 poems, 2. ‘For Our Grand Children’ with 26 poems and 3. ‘Looking Within and Beyond’ with 38 poems. Though it has been published as a single volume it is in fact a 3-in-1 volume.
The book opens with the poem ‘Beauty and the Feast’ which makes a mention of Adi Sankaracharya’s great composition Soundaryalahari which eulogizes the beauty of the Supreme Lord. The poet with his spiritual frame of mind expresses that soundarya acquires its real beauty when it is blessed with bhakti or devotion and devotion comes only when the spiritual seeker has total faith:
Beauty with its glory permeates the blessed beings with faith
What is saundarya if it doesn’t bless one with bhakti! – (p.23)
The spiritual thinking of the poet draws his mind towards the great seers of ancient India as he reflects on ‘the seer’s eye’ ‘in unfrenzied insight rolling’. Though we are endowed with the power of sight, to some it turns into divine or inner vision, to some it gets sharpened into foresight while in the case of some it changes into hindsight. Vultures make use of their sight to find putrefying matter, while doves and pigeons make use of the same sight as a source of love. It is their nature, but spiritual power can transform a vulture into a white dove, says the poet seer confidently:
Will vultures be transformed,
Into white doves, blue pigeons and black birds?
‘Sure they do.’ Confident, the seer says. – (p.24)
The social consciousness of the poet comes to the forefront in the poem ‘Stop Press’ and here Dr. Rama Rao takes cudgels against the Government on one side and on the other against the Press. Both the Press and the Government indulge in expressing that there is financial crunch. As a matter of fact both of them are indulging in spreading the biggest lie and trying to make it appear as really a disturbing fact which the poet totally refutes with his realistic observation:
Who said there’s a financial crunch
Whopping 2K crore a year
Goes to printed, shouted self-praise ….
He continues to attack the ruling parties for spending huge amounts on publicity in newspapers and the media and says at the cost of the tax payers the Governments and the elected leaders are recklessly indulging in the game of enjoying the fruits: ‘Rob taxpayer Peters/Pay rich leader Pals/Creepers, crawlers, climbers/Over and under fences/Into assemblies and committees.’ – (p.26).
The next poem ‘Winter Rain’ assumes much significance in the present context for boldly exposing the crisis of environment in Delhi and the threatening problem of rising air and water pollution. The poem starts with the startling line – ‘Delhi has green lungs’ with its terrible metaphor of ‘green lungs’. The situation in Delhi is so alarming that it is difficult to name the exact culprit for this dreadful pollution – ‘Who the aggressor and who the aggressed?’ – (p.27). The poet means that the dangerous quantum of pollution in the capital is the net result of the collective contribution of all people in Delhi. Everybody has contributed his or her mite for the harmful rise in pollution. And as a result the dwellers of Delhi have developed ‘green lungs’ breathing the polluted air and struggling in smog. The poem ‘Fig Leaf’ draws the sketch of vanishing of civilizations, known and unknown, the fall of tyrants and dictators who lie buried deep in dust or desert. Ozymandias is one such Emperor the remains of whose statue lie partly buried in the sands of Egyptian desert:
Civilizations knew one Ozymandias
Buried deep in deserts and ash
Executive heads beheaded. – (p.37)
The poet further says that the fig leaf can never hide true colours and wishes for the arrival of God’s kingdom: ‘Thy Kingdom come!’
The natural creative writer in Dr. Rama Rao comes out in the poem ‘Ars Poetica’ where he discusses the nature of fertility and fertility in writing. He commences with the colourful flour designs in the midst of which blobs of cow dung are arranged with flowers partly put inside the lumps. This is the usual sight in front of the gates of all houses in Indian villages and towns and his home state Andhra is famous for this practice known as Rangula Muggulu or Rangoli. Now from Rangoli he switches over to cat and her fresh ‘brood’ of kitten. Then he comes to the writing of poems and expresses that composing poems is not like a cat giving birth to kitten; poem is the result of moments of inspiration, it is a spark that gets released from intuition:
Penning poems is not kittening
There’s providence nonetheless
Menarche of Fancy cannot be induced
It has to be intuited – released –
Imagination –always extant and alive –
Needs a spur – call it divine – a spark –
An inspiration, a frenzy. – (p.31)
This verse has close resemblance to another poem ‘Kittening and Penning’ – (p.121) which we come across at a later stage.
Now we get the pleasure of perusing part of the title poem – ‘Look Within’, a highly philosophical poem rich with spiritual connotations. External appearance may not reveal the internal thought of the person and what he appears and says need not reveal his true nature and that is why it is said appearances are mostly deceptive. The poet with the depth of his experience says:
A face can wear many a mask.
The looks shift and change,
Become benign or ruffian.
There are people who always wear masks and as such we see only masks and masks and not real faces. The meaning of smile on the face of Mona Lisa remains an enigma even today. The poet rightly says that ‘An infant has a face/It doesn’t wear a mask’ and similarly ‘the mother has only a face for the offspring’:
Like God’s, hers is a face
What is without is within
Look for the infant’s face in the one you love:
Just look within! – (p.38)
Poems ‘Winter Blossoms’, ‘Seeing God’ and ‘Interface – Inner face’ are related to spiritual thinking. For a question ‘Did you ever see God?’ the poet replies ‘I do, almost every day’ and sees god in fresh faces, in gleaming hair, in blushes of school-going boys and ‘dew drops on grass twinkling in humility’ – (p.41). Now we get the rare opportunity of reading ‘Bardo Verses’ with five small sections of verses dealing with the Tibetan concept of the state of consciousness between Death and Rebirth where the term ‘Inthing’ refers to the infinite consciousness which we call the Soul. It is followed by a beautiful poem ‘Beggar and Better half’ running into four pages with twenty-nine three-lined verses where the beggar is the Supreme Lord Siva and the better-half is His own Power or Sakti who is worshipped as His Consort Goddess Sakti or Parvati or Kali or in many other names. With His ash-smeared body He is supposed to be a universal wanderer with a begging bowl, living on alms or food given by housewives and staying mostly in the burial ground. In the poem she follows Him as a girl and gives Herself to her better half who gives His all to His other half:
The mendicant is the homeless vagrant
The one who gives His all to His other half.
The two are inseparable: Shiva and His own Shakti! – (p.50)
‘To My Teacher RASA’ is indeed an excellent poem written by Dr. Rama Rao, now an octogenarian writer who was once a dedicated teacher at the higher level, on his teacher Prof. R.AppalaSwamy at Vizianaram a great erudite teacher who made his students spell-bound with his inspiring teaching. This is a remarkable poem which proclaims the sterling character and nobility of both the worthy teacher and the equally worthy student who is no other than the poet himself:
For He was Rasa, the elixir of life
Our text had always been an excuse
It was always a springboard to the Divine. – (p.53)
Now let us have a look at the poems of the second section For Our Grand Children. ‘Three Jeers’, a short piece of four lines, is a hard-hitting satire successfully aimed at the present system of Democracy:
Three jeers for Democracy
One for fabulous promises of those in power
One for the money-spinning ruses of haves
One from those, seething below the poverty line! – (p.71)
The piece ‘Sotto Voce’ with its Italian title reveals the writer’s preference for pedantic expression and exotic element. It presents an aspect of the many-sided phenomenon of human life. Our goals and destinations may be diversified. There is a wide gulf between the intentions and activities of our leaders; ‘Their achievements are for the public propaganda’ while ‘Their secret aspirations are power or pelf driven’. Now the poet speaks out the truth:
Only the individual fired by pious motives
Giving away all that is his
Can be a prophet, a saviour or a redeemer. – (p.72)
The next piece ‘What I Believe’ is steeped in philosophical speculations and reveals the poet’s intense faith in the Almighty. Here in the beginning he makes some statements which have general approval; he says it is better to be dead than to be killed, better to be assassinated than to be executed, better to be martyred than blasted. He questions –‘Does one ever know how the end comes?/You are not the one to choose:/It’s not a matter of choice either/ The dispensation is either from above or below; one never knows.’ – (p.73). That Dr. Rama Rao is a confirmed believer in God is expressed in no uncertain terms in the chosen lines of this poem.
Another poem ‘Where Word Failed’ speaks of the supremacy of Dharma. Savitri’s purity and humility could win over Yama the Lord of Dharma and Anasooya’s righteous nature could ‘transform our Trinity into supple infants’ – (p.80). It proves that Divinity has to bow before dharma and devotion.
Now let us have the pleasure of looking into the poems of the third group “Looking Within and Beyond” which has 38 poems which to a large extent deal with social and spiritual ideas. The poem ‘Quizzical Quartet’ discusses the four main concepts of Body, Mind, Spirit and Soul which are the four pillars on which all religious concepts are built. That mind is the author of one’s rise or fall is best expressed by the writer:
Sacred I could be or sinful
Merry or mischievous, candid or deceitful
Helpful, guiding or misleading
Could be either nice or nasty. – (p.104)
The small verse piece ‘Strategic?!’ is at once a question and an exclamation that deals with different types of strategies and management tricks that are adopted in expanding the domain of the business area. In these days the power of money has expanded to all spheres and a stage has come when anything can be bought and got with money. The writer says- ‘For sale is available many an organ/Kidney, eye, limb – besides – possibly –many more/… Seller is easier to come by’. If there is money anything can be purchased because everything has a price tag. The poet cleverly says when it comes to heart, demand is great, but supply is almost nil:
Hearts are in a great need
But not a seller yet …
God save the intending seller. – (p.114)
The poet makes a dialectical study and analytical understanding of the mental disposition ‘Sweet Temper’ and says ‘Temper is a matter of the mind/the heart/the will/habitual nature/fury like emotion/the soul/A variable it is, isn’t it?’ Now being an elderly and erudite gentleman he wants to give a piece of advice to the reader: ‘Mind is just mental make-up/ Never lose temper/ Win praise/prize for sweet temper’. – (p.120)
The poet who is a pragmatist to the core does not want to spare the people of the country who more often speak on morals but do not put them into practice. Hindus very much worship Ganga Mata but never try to keep the holy river clean. This point he tries to emphasize in the poem ‘Ram Teri Ganga Mailee’. He tries to focus his satire on the principal element of the title as we have transformed Ganga Mayya i.e. Mother Ganga into Ganga Mailee i.e. impure Ganga. Everybody knows that all the drain and filthy sewage flows into the Sacred river and in such a context even the Government may not succeed in cleaning the Ganges. Unless people realize the gravity of the situation and unless they earnestly come forward with a strong will the purification of the river cannot be realized:
Can filial devotion to motherhood again be resurrected?
Can legislation cleanse the river to her grandeur natural? – (p.128)
The poem ‘Look Within’, closely related to the title of the book with its partial proximity to the thematic nature of the title enables us to probe deep into the mind of the writer Dr. Rama Rao and find his message. He tries in this small poem to dwell on the power of discrimination and introspection which alone can transform a man from gross level to an enlightened stage. It is easier for a man to go down to the lower level of a beast, but it requires earnest aspiration and stronger will power to resist worldly temptations and control the rebellious senses so as rise to a higher level worthy of God’s grace. The poet says it is easy to preach morals but it is an uphill task to practise the same:
It’s all easier said than done in time
Venomousness is the attribute of the cobra
Knowing goodness doesn’t amount to being good
It needs a thousand births to become saintly
That too only with His grace! – (p.132)
In this book Dr. Rama Rao reveals himself as a poet with a mission to preach higher values which alone can save the contemporary world from falling into depravity and degeneration. This book is aimed at achieving a higher goal of discovering the ever-shining truth of this mortal existence and to this effect he makes a poetic journey to unravel the various phases of the ever-baffling mystery of this life. He proves through these poems that poetry-writing is a penance and a poem to be acceptable is expected to be the fruitful result of the process of meditation. His skilful use of imagery is the high watermark of his poetry and his images are at once functional and revealing. He is a poet with social commitment as he seems to be determined boldly to expose the ills and defects and deformities in all sections of the society and to correct by injecting nobler values into the veins of the society.